Braves with decisions to make after disappointing '14

Braves with decisions to make after disappointing '14

ATLANTA -- Though a near-perfect conclusion might miraculously vault them into the playoffs, the Braves are much more likely to spend this season's final week tasting the disappointment that has followed them for most of this year. Then, when it is all said and done, the organization will decide whether it will dismiss a general manager or manager for the first time since 1990.

This possibility seemed to be out of the question just one year ago, when Atlanta captured its first division title since 2005. But the 12 months that have followed have altered the landscape and given the club's top executives reason to assess the direction of the franchise.

Thus, as the final days of the 2014 season approach, there is reason to wonder about the futures of general manager Frank Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and the members of the coaching staff.

There has been some discontent throughout the organization dating back to last October, when pitching coach Roger McDowell nearly went to the Phillies before Braves president John Schuerholz stepped in during the final hours to make sure McDowell had reason to continue serving as one of the most influential members of Atlanta's coaching staff.

Around the same time, Dave Wallace left his role as the Braves' Minor League pitching coordinator to become the Orioles' pitching coach. Then one of Schuerholz's longtime aides, Dick Balderson, suddenly opted to retire -- to the surprise of many of his friends and associates.

Having already made his mark as a pitching coach in Boston and Los Angeles, the 66-year-old Wallace seemed content to continue working at the Minor League level. But he opted to exit because of the regular battles he had with assistant general manager Bruce Manno.

The Yankees and Cardinals stand as the only clubs that have won more games than the Braves since the start of the 2009 season. But as the past few years have progressed, players, coaches, scouts and front-office employees have complained that the organization has lost the harmonious family feel that it possessed under the direction of Schuerholz, who served as the club's general manager from 1991-2007, and Bobby Cox, who spent five seasons as the club's GM before becoming manager midway through the 1990 season.

Wren's mistakes with high-priced free agents have been well documented, going back to Kenshin Kawakami and Derek Lowe. Atlanta bid adieu to Dan Uggla this year despite still owing him nearly $20 million. Now the question is what will the team do with B.J. Upton, who is owed approximately $46 million over the next three seasons.

Still, if Wren is relieved of his duties, the decision would likely have more to do with the club's desire to regain the culture of cohesion and pride that the organization enjoyed for many years.

With the Braves winning just four of the 15 games this month, they have nearly fallen out of the playoff picture -- 5 1/2 games behind the Pirates, who are positioned to claim the National League's second Wild Card spot. At the same time, they have conjured memories of their 2011 collapse, during which they went 9-18 in September.

There is reason to be concerned about the fact that Atlanta has struggled during two of the four Septembers that Gonzalez has served as the club's manager. The 2011 collapse was influenced by the injuries suffered by Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. This year's version has been a product of a disappointing offense that's averaged a Major League-worst 2.43 runs since Aug. 23. That is nearly a half-run less than the Padres (2.92), who rank second-to-last.

While Gonzalez has taken the role of a leader by assuming responsibility for his club's disappointing results, the Braves might opt to keep him in his current position and alter their coaching staff. Hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher appear to be the most likely casualties given the offensive struggles the club has experienced throughout the year.

Since receiving contract extensions earlier this year, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson have all proven unsuccessful in their attempts to build on the offensive success they had during the 2013 season.

Simmons and Johnson have regressed back toward initial expectations, which both exceeded last year. Freeman might have been slightly burdened by the pressures a franchise-record contract can place on a 24-year-old.

Whatever the case, Walker might not have had much influence regarding these declines. At the same time, there will be those who think Wren and Gonzalez deserve a mulligan. But as things currently stand, it seems the Braves are destined to do whatever's necessary to avoid experiencing another season as disappointing as this one has been.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.